I originally trained as an engineer as I wanted to be a train driver but was told I was overqualified, so ended up working for a company that specialised in horse race gambling, which involved a lot of travel. That’s really where my love of aviation started. In 2015 at the age of 45 I decided to take a leap of faith and obtain my private pilot licence (PPL) and was then offered a role managing one of the larger aero clubs in Paris.
To become a pilot, of which there are around 45,000 in France, you must be affiliated with an aero club, through which it normally takes around two years to achieve your PPL. That’s when I, alongside two fellow pilots, realised there was a niche in the market to set up a training academy that would enable aspiring pilots to obtain their PPL in a much shorter period. We officially opened the academy in 2017 and have been very successful ever since.
We are based out of Saint-Cyr Aerodrome, which is the closest general aviation airport to Paris city centre. Within 20 minutes you can be at the Eiffel Tower! For pilots landing at Saint-Cyr for the first time, the birds eye view of Versailles castle is breath-taking. Final approach can be daunting flying so close to Paris’ skyline, but it’s simply a question of routing and we are on hand to offer guidance and support for those landing at the airport for the first time.
At the beginning it was about building our reputation as a flight academy for the private pilot sector. However, we have since expanded our services. We realised there is a market for pilots wanting to rent an aircraft for a few days or more, rather than just a single flight, so that’s a service we now offer. We also offer surveillance flights of solar farms throughout France and are on duty to arrange refuelling and ground handling services for visiting aircraft. Plus, we are delighted to offer a concierge service, in terms of suggesting local tips on where to eat and stay in the city, as well as must-see attractions.
We are fortunate to have enjoyed a close working relationship for many years and in 2019 we became Air bp’s representative at Saint-Cyr Aerodrome. Air bp has been hugely supportive in handing over this role, providing training and ensuring we are fully up to speed on quality control and safe, reliable fuelling measures. And that’s something we have been able to share with our customers too. Being affiliated with Air bp as a trusted brand has also provided a platform for us to connect with new customers.
This is an incredible opportunity and we were delighted when Air bp decided to collaborate with us to offer a scholarship (worth approximately €10,000) for an aspiring young pilot to train at our academy. The first ever French scholar, Emma Lou, was announced in April and took her first training flight on 5 May. She has wanted to be a pilot since the age of 15, but didn’t have the funds to pay for training, so had decided to study engineering instead and revisit her dreams of becoming a pilot later in life. It’s great that we’ve been able to offer her that opportunity now. She’s a determined young lady and has a bright future in aviation ahead of her.
With a focus on cleaner, greener aircraft for the future, one exciting project in the pipeline is our plan to become the first flight school in France to operate a fleet of electric aircraft. We are currently talking to various stakeholders about collaborating with us on this project. In the more immediate future, we’re also looking to grow the training arm of our business by increasing our fleet dedicated to this activity. I would also like to grow the aircraft rental side of the business and we are currently developing a model whereby we lease aircraft from owners when they are not using them.
I still love trains but I’m glad my life followed a different path. For train drivers, much like commercial pilots, everything is automated, so it’s not as interesting or as challenging as flying a small aircraft. For me every day is different and pretty much every flight is more exciting than the last. You have to be ready to react at all times and focused on the task in hand. But most of all it’s fun!
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